The Oregon Public Health Division’s (OPHD) Foodborne Illness Prevention Program announced that it is moving forward with the adoption of the 2009 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code. The new rules will take effect on September 4, 2012. Oddly, however, the agency noted that it would not be adopting the “No Bare Hand Contact” section of the Food Code.
In creating the “No Bare Hand Contact” rule for food handlers, the FDA pointed out that when hands are heavily contaminated, even effective handwashing practices may not be enough to prevent the transmission of pathogens from the hands to ready-to-eat (RTE) foods, such as sandwiches, salads, and other foods that are eaten without further washing or cooking. Accordingly, the rule requires the use of “suitable utensils such as scoops, spoons, forks, spatulas, tongs, deli tissue, single-use gloves, or dispensing equipment” when handling RTE food items to reduce foodborne illness.
Discussion of implementing the “No Bare Hand Contact” rule in Oregon was met with fierce opposition by restaurateurs who raised concerns over the cost of complying with the rule and whether it would actually increase food safety. In response, OPHD explained that over the next few months it will assemble a workgroup of interested parties (restaurateurs, government inspectors, consumers, etc.) to review and provide recommendations on addressing norovirus and fecal contamination of food, and to identify the best options to reduce illness.
Oregon’s process of adopting the 2009 FDA Food Code began in August 2010 when a Food Code Review Workgroup was established to work with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, food service and retail industry groups and regulators to develop recommendations regarding the new rules. Earlier this year, OPHD also provided training for regulators and industry on the 2009 Food Code in preparation for the September effective date.
The Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), under contract to the FDA, has been gathering data on the progress of FDA Food Code adoptions by States, Territories, Local and Tribal Nation agencies. AFDO reported that 49 of the 50 States adopted codes patterned after the 1993, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2005, or 2009 versions of the Food Code, representing 96% of the U.S. population. Specifically:
- Four States adopted the 1993, 1995 or 1997 Food Code, representing 4% of the US population.
- Ten States adopted the 1999 Food Code, representing 13%of the US population.
- Eleven States adopted the 2001 Food Code, representing 38% of the US population.
- Twenty one States adopted the 2005 Food Code, representing 39%of the US population.
- Three States adopted the 2009 Food Code, representing2% of the US population.
In September, Oregon will join Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Delaware in adopting the 2009 version of the food code. Until the final rules take effect, food industry members can review the Fact Sheets provided by OPHD to ensure compliance and see what other changes may affect their business in the coming weeks.
Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (“CIFOR”) has published new guidelines designed to help local, state and federal agencies to improve their response to outbreaks. I became aware of this (again) through Ricardo Carvajal, who was a reviewer for the guidelines, and his firm’s FDA Law Blog. I agree with Ricardo that while the guidelines are designed for public agencies they have value for food businesses.
According to CIFOR, “[t]he guidelines are intended to give all agencies a common foundation from which to work and to provide examples of the key activities that should occur during the response to outbreaks of foodborne disease.”
Anticipating how the public health agency will behave will not only assist in crisis management, but it may also prevent the crisis. As discussed previously in this blog, one of the benefits of good crisis management is the ability to reach out and offer assistance to the investigating public health agencies. Keeping current on protocols that we can expect agencies to follow is a good practice.
The guidelines are also of some value to litigators. In the face of an outbreak investigation, they provide tools to assess the merits of the agency investigation. While it is always difficult to challenge a public health agency’s findings (no matter how flawed), the guidelines may help.